China’s ruling Communist Party has said that its highly anticipated congress would last a week and signaled that Vice President Xi Jinping had moved closer to taking the reins of power.
Xi was tapped for a key post overseeing the congress, which occurs every five years and opens on Thursday.
At the meeting, he is expected to replace President Hu Jintao as party chief in a once-a-decade power transition that will be watched around the world.
“The preparatory meeting passed the appointment of Comrade Xi Jinping as secretary-general of the congress,” said party spokesman Cai Mingzhao, adding that the next set of leaders would be unveiled at the end of the meeting.
The move likely signals that Xi’s much-expected move toward the country’s top leadership post is on track.
Xi, 59, has been second in command to Hu since 2008. His likely appointment to head the all-powerful party will set the stage for his promotion to president of the world’s most populous nation, expected next March.
Xi and the rest of the future leadership take the reins amid growing pressure for the party to reform to curb rising corruption and spur economic growth, which recently slowed to its lowest quarterly rate since 2009.
Eight out of 10 Chinese want political reform, according to a survey published on Wednesday by a state-run newspaper.
The poll, published by the Global Times newspaper, found that 81 per cent of people in seven major cities said they supported political reform, with 66 per cent feeling the government should face greater public scrutiny.
The Global Times is linked to the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, and the decision to publish the survey appeared to indicate the party wanted to be seen to be acknowledging the calls.
But while party leaders routinely voice vague lip service to some form of future political reform, the Communists retain iron-clad control of Chinese power and multi-party democracy is firmly off the agenda.
“[The congress] will be one of great importance, when China is in a crucial stage of building a modern and prosperous society in all respects, taking on reform and opening up, and accelerating the transformation of the growth pattern,” Cai said at a press briefing.
He added that the congress would close on November 14. The party had not previously said how long the sensitive meeting would last.
Elements in the ruling party are widely believed to favour some form of political reform to bolster their legitimacy, but the exact nature of any internal debate remains unknown due to the secrecy surrounding its affairs.
Preparations for the congress have been rocked by the months-long controversy over former senior leader Bo Xilai.
Bo, the former party boss in the central city of Chongqing, was once seen as a candidate for promotion to the party’s top echelons. But he was brought down earlier this year by murder allegations against his wife.
Preparations for the closed-door power handover come as Americans re-elected President Barack Obama in the full glare of the world’s media, prompting pungent comment by Chinese internet users at their own lack of democracy.
“Why has the Chinese people’s interest in the US presidential election reached a new high? Because the Chinese people have given up their own affairs… they are not allowed to handle them!” said a posting on a microblog service run by internet giant Tencent.
Americans “did not dispatch a single soldier, did not ban knives, did not ban photocopies, did not recruit more than a million volunteers”, said Er Hei Xi Fu, in reference to extensive security preparations for the Beijing meeting.
China has witnessed explosive growth in Internet usage since the last Communist Party transition in 2002, with the online community of 538 million posing a huge challenge to the party’s attempts to shape public opinion.